By Andrew Hudson
I’m fairly certain I’m not alone when I say this is the most turbulent seasons I’ve ever seen. Between the COVID-19 pandemic—and all that comes with it (loss of life, community, jobs, etc.), racial injustices, civil unrest, and heated election campaigns, we’re weary.
And we need for God to move. Not only in our circumstances, but even more so in our hearts and in our personal lives. The people in your church—the people you lead and serve—need transformation. How can you lead them in petitioning God to move?
One way to do this to lead your church in a community fast. Fasting is something we see in Scripture, but don’t see done very often in our churches. It’s something that’s assumed will happen; Matthew 6:16 doesn’t say, “If you fast …,” it says, “When you fast …”
Fasting isn’t magic. It’s not a way to convince God of what we want or even to pressure God into acting. Fasting is a way to tune our hearts to God’s. It’s a way to listen and to pray more intentionally.
Daniel, after fasting, declares in chapter three, “If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up” (Daniel 3:17–18).
Before approaching the king, Esther says, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). I’m reminded of a quote from Edith Schaeffer:
“Is fasting ever a bribe to get God to pay more attention to the petitions? No, a thousand times no. It is simply a way to make clear that we sufficiently reverence the amazing opportunity to ask help from the everlasting God, the creator of the universe, to choose to put everything else aside and concentrate on worshiping, asking forgiveness, and making our requests known—considering His help more important than anything we could do ourselves in our own strength and with our own ideas.”
As you prepare for your next fast, whether it is your first or your fiftieth with your church, consider leading them through these next steps in preparation:
Before beginning your next fast, take some time to ask God to prepare your heart. Ask Him to show you areas of your life that need more compassion or empathy.
Are there any areas of emotional sin that you need to seek forgiveness for? Are you fearful or anxious about what you will learn during this season of fasting? Ask God to reveal and calm feelings of uncertainty and to increase your awareness of ways you can love Him and others better.
I have found that emotions that are within me are only amplified when I fast. Do you harbor resentment or anger toward anyone or any situation? Is there any disunity in your relationships with others? 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
How can you be more honest with yourself and with others as you enter into this season? Is your heart ready to receive whatever God lays on your heart?
When you fast communally, consider the prayers of the group. If you are individually fasting, pray for clarity and wisdom. Pray for the lost around you. Pray that God would use you in a spectacular way and that He would give you the courage of Esther, Daniel, or Joshua to stand up to the opposition.
Find a journal to record your prayers, thoughts, and journey as you progress through this season. Find a few friends to join you in intentional prayer times and record the requests and answers along the way.
Prepare your soul to listen intently to the small utterances of God and that those would be amplified in your life.
Take a moment and realize the very real implications of your next fast. Dietary restrictions, health restrictions, social implications—how will the fast affect your regular life?
So much of life can be filled with coffee meetings or lunch appointments, dinner parties and nights out with friends. Consider how you will change your habits while you fast. My pastor says, “Fasting is a disruption to our lives.”
Take the time to preplan what your days will look like, what juices or broths you’ll consume, and in what quantities. Think about what Scripture passages to study and if there are any other commentaries or books that will help focus your attention.
Discuss with your spouse or household how the coming days may look different. Invite them in on your journey and ask them for prayer.
Before any fast, you should consult a physician and discuss what you are wanting to do and see if you’re healthy enough for the undertaking you are wanting to do. Drink a lot of water. Maintaining proper hydration is key.
Before you begin your fast, it’s important to begin eating healthier foods to make the transition easier. Foods with high vitamin content will help you not shock your system. You’ll lose weight. You’ll lose energy. You’ll find yourself lethargic at times and have spurts of energy at others.
Maintain steadiness throughout your regimen. Don’t overexert yourself—fasting is not a time to start (or even continue) going to the gym or training for the next marathon.
Finally, prepare your response. This can be an intense season of focus and spiritual awakening. Throughout your fast, recall the reasons that you decided to spend the next period of time focused on God and what your intentions were.
Avoid thoughts of pride or an embellishment of self. Be honest with yourself and what you want God to reveal to you—seek those answers! Be patient. Be diligent. Be mindful. Think through how you might respond to others that notice you’re not eating or the times you’ve removed yourself from friends.
You shouldn’t be dishonest, but you also don’t want to broadcast what you are doing (see Matthew 6:16-18). To me, one of the hardest challenges of fasting is the social aspect. Even if my wife isn’t fasting, dinner time is a different experience for the entire family.
During one of my first extended fasts, we would spend 30–45 minutes preparing the meal only to scarf it down in moments. This observation has caused us to become more intentional with our cooking time as a family and we’ve dramatically slowed down the meal.
Spiritual disciplines, fasting included, are things we do religiously. This doesn’t mean we have to do the discipline every day, or even every week, but we need to start practicing the disciplines on a regular basis.
I pray that when you fast, you hear God in small ways and in large, in the mundane and spectacular. I pray that God meets you on your journey, and that you and your church will never be the same again.
I’ll leave you with the words of Richard Foster:
“We fast for many reasons. We fast because it reveals the things that control us. We fast because it helps to give us balance in life. We fast because there is an urgent need. Most important of all, we fast because God calls us to it… the spiritual discipline of fasting can bring breakthroughs in the heart and mind that will not happen in any other way.”
Bible Studies for Life is offering a free e-book, How to Fast. Download it for free.
ANDREW HUDSON (@andrewhudson) is the brand manager for Bible Studies for Life and leads the Creative Media team at Lifeway Christian Resources.